A Star Shaped Flower That Blooms In The Fall Petite Substitutes for Petunias in the Annual Border

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Petite Substitutes for Petunias in the Annual Border

I don’t like petunias. There – my prejudices are exposed. I won’t try to justify my dislike of the ubiquitous petunias, but if you’re looking for an annual flower that will fill some space in your flower border and you’re tired of petunias, here are three of my favorites. .

One of my favorite petunia alternatives is the calibrachoa, which is actually a distant relative of the petunia. Calibrachoa, sold as ‘Million Bells’, is a low-growing plant that spreads over baskets and walls and trails, much like a miniature petunia. However, the flowers are much smaller and the leaves are thinner than petunias. Seedlings continue to spread and bloom from late spring until frost with such a carefree presence that any busy gardener will be delighted.

The flowering Calibrachoa in my garden is looking fantastic despite weeks of weather in the upper 90s. The flowers are self-cleaning, so deadheading is not required. Unfortunately, this means that Calibrachoa will not set seed, and since these hybrid plants are patented, new plants must be purchased each spring.

The ‘Million Bells’ found in nurseries each spring were originally part of an extensive breeding program conducted by the Japanese company Suntory Limited, which is now patented. Hybridized in 1988 from a naturally growing plant in South America. These plants will grow in any sunny spot that petunias are happy, but will be quite small. They also look fantastically receding in favor of hanging baskets. Plants will eventually fill a space at least 12″ wide or more, but can be spaced 8″ apart to fill garden space more quickly.

Calibrachoa is available in shades of blue, pink, red, yellow and white.

Another favorite petunia option of mine is Nurembergia. This plant is also distantly related to petunias, and the star-shaped flowers bear a vague resemblance to dim petunias, but the comparison should end there. This plant has finely textured leaves that are almost completely hidden by clusters of tiny flowers. Mine was planted from seed this spring and transplanted to a sunny border receiving hot western sun. Many other plants growing nearby have collapsed in the heat, but Nirenbergia is completely unaffected and continues to bloom and spread.

Nierembergia is available in white, light lavender and blue-violet. I planted seeds of Nierembergia variety “Blue Mountain” available from Park Seed Company. “White Robe” and “Purple Robe” seeds are available from Stokes Seeds.

My final suggestion for a petunia substitute is an old garden favorite, the portulaca or moss rose. This plant is native to South America, but not related to petunias. This member of the purslane family can thrive in poor soil and hot sun, as long as it is watered occasionally. Like Nierembergia, moss roses can easily be started from seed. These plants don’t do well in shady locations, but they will survive in areas of your garden that may not do well for other plants. Older varieties open their flowers for only a fraction of each day, so choose the most recent hybrids and sow the seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost. Portulaca is available in orange, rose, yellow, and white—all colors that will contrast beautifully when planted with one of the other petunia options listed in this article.

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